Thursday, April 12, 2007

Temple Institute: A Nation's First Steps

A Nation's First Steps

"G-d said to Moses, 'Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to the Israelites, and let them start moving." (Exodus 14:15)

Nisan 20, 5767/April 8, 2007

Passover marks the birthday of the Israelite nation. An extended family of seventy souls that went down to Egypt some two hundred and ten years earlier has now been shaped and transformed into a single nation. To be sure, one can follow the birth analogy right through the avodat parech - hard labor - that the Children of Israel were oppressed with. And to be sure, just as the unborn child reaches a point in its development when it can no longer viably remain inside the womb, so too, the Israelites, by slaughtering each family a lamb, (considered to be a deity by the Egyptians), made their continued stay in Egypt a non-option.

The Israelites who emerged on the Passover night from Egypt, like newborn infants, found themselves suddenly in a hostile world, pursued by an army determined to destroy them. And like any infant, scared and overwhelmed, they cried. So it is only natural that, finding themselves, seven days after stepping out of Egyptian bondage, caught between Pharaoh's army and the deep blue sea, they should cry out to their Father in heaven. So why does G-d, our compassionate Father, reject our cries, telling Moshe rabbeinu - Moses - "'Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to the Israelites, and let them start moving?" (ibid)

Our sages teach us that the Jews at the Sea of Reeds aligned themselves according to different schools of thought: some felt the solution was to raise their hands and go back to Egypt, resigning themselves to slavery. Others felt that only prayer could help them out of their untenable position. Yet another group was determined to return the fight, and take on the Egyptians, come what may. G-d's rebuke to Moshe, "'Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to the Israelites, and let them start moving," (ibid) was, in fact, Fatherly advice.

There comes a time in a child's development when he begins to walk. First he picks himself up off his knees. This the Israelites had done when they followed G-d's command and slaughtered the lambs. But a child needs encouragement to make his first concerted steps forward. Often one parent will stand with the child, while the other, with open arms, beckons the child forward. When G-d says to Moshe, "'Why are you crying out to Me?'" (ibid) He is in effect saying, "Don't cling to Me as I appear on this side of the Sea. Walk forth toward Me as I appear on the far side of the Sea."

"'I Will Be Who I Will Be,'" (ibid 3:14) G-d told Moshe when he first asked His name back in Midian. It was now imperative for the children of Israel, as they stood facing the impassible sea, to understand that G-d is not the god of standing still, G-d is the G-d of moving forward, of becoming who we are meant to become. And how did G-d appear to the Israelites on the far side of the Sea of Reeds? The answer to this question is provided in the Song of the Sea itself, the song every Jew repeats each morning in his prayers, and the entire congregation reads together on the seventh day of Passover: "O bring them (Your people) and plant them on the mount You possess. The place You dwell in is Your accomplishment, G-d. The Sanctuary of G-d Your Hands have founded." (ibid 15:17) The Holy One appeared, (and appears), in the historical destiny of the Jewish people, to return to the land of Israel, to establish G-d's Holy Temple, and to worship Him in His dwelling place in Jerusalem. It was this vision which inspired Nachshon, the leader of the tribe of Yehudah, whose very name, (from the root nachush), means determined, to plunge himself into the sea, where he proceeded to walk forward even as the rising waters reached his nostrils. It was this vision that brought the entire nation of Israel safely through the depths of the sea, ready to embark upon their Divinely inspired journey through history.

"The Seventh day (of Passover), shall be a sacred holiday to you." (Deuteronomy 28:25) On the seventh day of the exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel crossed the Sea of Reeds, effectively taking their first independent steps. Baby steps for the nation of Israel. Giant steps for mankind.

Chag Sameach - a happy holiday - to all,
Yitzchak Reuven
PO Box 31876
Jerusalem, Israel 97500

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